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Old 06-01-2018, 10:06 PM   #1
Kevin7
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East Trail to Rocky Peak Ridge-Base Camping and Hiking-Ma 16-18, 2018-DETAILED REPORT

The East Trail to Rocky Peak Ridge (access on Highway 9 near New Russia) is a stunning hike, considered by some as the best in the park. I had the good fortune to hike it in May in beautiful weather, when it was free of ice, snow and bugs, and was not even very wet or muddy. I suspect it may be the best spring High Peaks hike if you hope to find that sweet spot between snow and black flies.

This trail had always seemed out of reach to me - because it is just too hard! I suppose I could do this as a return hike in one day – but for me it would feel more like a death march than a pleasure outing. And I would have to keep moving all the time, rushing past all that beauty.

I solved this problem by converting it to a two night base camping adventure. My intention was not only to make the main hike more pleasurable, but to have a very high quality camping experience as well. My plan was to set up my base camp by the lovely Blueberry Cobbles. This would reduce the return trip distance from 13.4 miles to 9 miles, and (more importantly) cut the vertical ascent (return) from about 5000 feet down to 3700 feet (The mileage markers I give here, however, will be from the trailhead).

Mind you, climbing 1300 feet in two miles with 47 pounds of gear on my back presented a challenge as well. I’m 61, not a true backpacker, and don’t have ultra-light gear (obviously). I took it very slow with a planned stop halfway up for a leisurely lunch. The timing worked well, as I had arrived at the trailhead at about 10:30 AM after a four hour drive from Ottawa.

The trail to the Blueberry Cobbles winds up through a very pleasant Hemlock forest. It is a fairly steep climb, but broken at the midpoint by a long stretch of nearly flat trail. Significant portions of the trail follow two mossy rock laden streams – very nice, especially in the spring. The second steep climb after the midpoint “flat” is relieved about two thirds of its way up by the first viewpoint, on a clearly visible side trail to the left, which takes you out to a ledge with good views to the south and east. Just above this another side trail (right) takes you to another ledge looking northeast. Very soon after this, at 2.0 miles into the hike, you reach the junction of the “Bypass Trail”(signed) which avoids the final climb of 150 vertical feet or so up onto the Blueberry Cobbles. I took the bypass because my first goal was to set up camp in the col between the Cobbles and Mason Mountain. Immediately past the next junction, where the two trails rejoin, there is a shallow gully going down to the left (south). It was a short way down this gully that I found a small but perfectly flat, soft tent pad pleasantly nestled among boulders (limitation: would probably not be good in a heavy rain storm).

Having found a good tent site, the next problem to solve was water. Aside from the steep climb, this is probably the major challenge for base camping at this location. It was not much of a challenge in mid-May, of course. I went off the trail bearing north and west around Mason Mountain (the next rise immediately after the Cobbles), mostly avoiding elevation loss as I went, and after 600 paces or so found a small stream and filled my large container.

(But I also wanted to know if one could find water here in the drier seasons. Stevens Brook is a major stream that runs down the valley to the south of Blueberry Cobbles. From the Cobbles you can see its course by the different-coloured trees that line it. At this time of the year you can also hear its roar from the Cobbles. On my last day I headed down the gully I was camped in to search out this brook. As the ground levelled I bore right (upstream) to minimize elevation loss – though the side of Mason Mountain is steep and rocky, and you do have to descend a lot before you turn upstream (I estimate 250-300 vertical feet to the brook). It was not a difficult bushwhack. The brook is a beautiful green cascading flow at this time of the year. It took me 15 minutes to hike back up to my camp from the brook. I expect you could collect water here all through the summer. Also, you can investigate the flow of Stevens Brook in advance by checking out the culvert where it passes under Highway 9 exactly one mile south of the trailhead.)

Although camped in the gully, I intended to make my “day camp” right on the beautiful open ledge at the west end of the Blueberry Cobbles (this did entail a 150 foot climb between “camps”). It was up on this ledge that I had my breakfasts and my suppers, and where I spent my evenings until it grew dark. When I was away from the spot, all my gear was packed away and out of sight. For me, the etiquette of “hanging out” in a prime spot on the trail such as this requires that there should be no trace of one’s presence – certainly no fire, for example.

It is a lovely spot, with lots of room to stroll about as well as just sit and soak in the view. From here you can see most of the hike stretching in front of you – little Mason Mountain in the foreground, Bald Peak rising on Mason’s right shoulder, and to the left of both, the eastern portion of the long Rocky Peak Ridge. The pleasure of spending time in this place greatly enhanced my camping/hiking experience.

AT 7 AM the next day I started on the main hike. It was a remarkably mild morning for mid-May. I made the short climb up to the top of Mason Mountain (Mile 2.8), an ascent of about 350 feet punctuated by a couple of good views down onto the Blueberry Cobbles and to the south. After a slight dip into a shallow col, I began the more substantial ascent (800+ feet) up to Bald Peak. Most of this climb is through closed forest, but as you approach the ridge of Bald, it opens up onto broad rocky shelves. As I approached the top, early morning mists were still drifting below, and the lower hilltops appeared to be floating in the clouds.

Some scrambling up over mostly smooth rock shelves is necessary here – not too difficult (the slide climbers would laugh that I even mention it), but it does take some care, even though it was dry. I would say it is the trickiest section of the entire trail – if you are okay here, you will be fine with the rest of the trail, as far as secure footing is concerned.

Now you emerge onto the ridge of Bald Peak. The trail up to this point has been a pleasant hike sprinkled with some nice views. But the “glory section” begins here, and stretches all the way to the summit of Rocky Peak Ridge. As you proceed you will be treated with long stretches of open ridge providing outstanding views in all directions. To the south and southwest you see the central mass of the High Peaks. To the east lies Lake Champlain. To the north, and much closer, are the massive ridges and deep valleys of the Giant Mountain Wilderness, with Hurricane and Jay Mountains beyond.

Most impressive of all, though, are the views of the ridges you are actually hiking on. It begins with Bald Peak, an unusual mountain with unusual vistas. The mountain is shaped roughly like an upside-down U. That is to say, the ridgelines of the mountain follow that shape. Climbing north westward, you come up onto the mountain at the “top” of one of the uprights of the “U”. You then proceed to the base of the U, where the peak is located (Mile 3.9). Here you make a right angle turn south westward, and hike along the “base” of the U (the trail does not turn to follow the line of the other upright of the U). All three of these ridge lines are steep and rocky, so that there are outstanding and varied views from the different points on the trail.

Bald Peak is a very worthy destination in its own right. If this is your final destination, I strongly urge you not to stop at the peak, but to explore the whole of the ridge beyond it. You will only lose about 100 feet of elevation, and have many rewarding views for your effort. Passing by the famous giant glacial erratic (boulder), you will come to the final viewpoint of the ridge (off trail left, signed), which affords an excellent unobstructed view of Rocky Peak. It may inspire you to go further on a future hike.

The 200+ foot descent off the west end of Bald Peak was the only stretch of the whole trail I found to be wet-slippery treacherous (May 17) – the tricky part was not very long, it just required care. At the bottom you pass through a very distinctive birch wood with many fallen trees. Now you begin the longest unbroken ascent on the trail (1200 feet), through dense conifers and nearly without benefit of views. The first part of the climb was very wet when I did it – though not in a manner that made it treacherous. Almost exactly halfway up the climb, you come out onto a ledge which affords you a chance to catch your breath and take in an excellent view of Bald Peak not far below you.

Just above this ledge is where I came upon the only significant “winter-fall” obstruction on the whole of the trail. Several trees had fallen into a section of the trail (not across it), completely blocking it for a good thirty feet. With more fallen trees on either side of this steep section, it was rather tricky (and scratchy!) to get around the obstacle. Not a big deal, though. I suspect it will take the park some time to clear this obstruction.

When you have completed about ninety percent of this ascent, you come out onto a big ledge with tremendous views, including of the peak itself. From here you re-enter the trees, but they are now much smaller and more spaced out, affording partial views and making for an open feeling for the final climb to Rocky Peak (Mile 5.4 ).

Note that “Rocky Peak” is not the summit of Rocky Peak Ridge. It is a prominent high point on the eastern end of the ridge (It is probable that Rocky Peak was the first feature named on this ridge, and that subsequently both the long ridge and its true summit at the western end came to be identified as “Rocky Peak Ridge”). Rocky Peak is unique in that it is the only place on the entire trail where you can turn in place and have a completely unobstructed view in all directions. I would say it is probably the best viewpoint on the East Trail. From here you clearly see where you have come from, and also look ahead down the whole stretch of Rocky Peak Ridge, and on to Giant beyond it.

From Rocky Peak you make a very minor descent back into the trees before levelling and emerging into a long stretch of open ledge with wonderful views. The trail soon dips through trees once again to emerge onto the beautiful Marie Louise Pond (Mile 6.1) (a sign there mislabels it as “Lake Mary Louise”). A wooden bridge crosses the end of the pond and provides a great view of this lovely boulder strewn mountain tarn. (On my return trip I lingered some time at the pond, doffing my boots and wading in the icy water to snap some photos of the many salamanders patrolling the pond – not only the familiar little brown newts, but also the larger Spotted Salamander with the brilliant yellow polka dots.)

Continuing on past the pond, you emerge out of the trees once again onto open ridge and the final, long and relatively gentle ascent of about 450 feet to the summit of the ridge. The beginning of this ascent offers a lovely view back on Marie Louise Pond, nestled into the mountain. It was while I was taking in this view, at about noon on a warm sunny May day, that the atmosphere was suddenly transformed by a dense, chill mist that blew in from the north, swirling around both sides of the ridge. This mist continued to blow past for the next hour or more, alternately concealing and revealing the ridge and the distant mountains. It was quite other-worldly and beautiful.

I spent well over an hour on the broad, flat, cairn strewn ledge of the peak (Mile 6.7), enjoying the views, the rolling mist and a leisurely lunch. Here I met the only people I was to see on the trail that day– a young couple who had hiked to the summit from the opposite direction, via Giant. This is an “easier” hike than the one from the east, but still a tough slog. They were turning around at this point, as I suspect most people do who come from Giant. The problem with this is that you see only the western summit and miss the entire glorious length of Rocky Peak Ridge.

My return hike was beautiful but uneventful. My only caution is with regards to descending Bald Peak on the way back – you might be tired at this point, and should remember to descend the steep rock slabs with care.

I left my camp to make this hike at 7 AM, and returned to Blueberry Cobbles just before 6 PM. Can that hike be done in less than eleven hours? Of course. But there are so many beautiful places in which to linger along the way. I needed eleven hours to do it justice.

Unable to sleep in the next morning, I arose early to catch a glorious sunrise at 5:30 AM from the higher, northeast facing of the two lookouts just below and east of the Cobbles. My leisurely morning at the campsite included the already mentioned scouting of Stevens Brook. I then packed up and made a rapid, one hour descent to my starting point. I completed my trip with lunch at the very scenic Split Rock Falls on Highway 9 just south of the trailhead.

I might still be willing to acknowledge that the most striking and magnificent single views in the High Peaks are seen from peaks such as Marcy, Algonquin and Haystack. But for sheer extended grandeur stretching over a distance of more than three miles, the East Trail to Rocky Peak Ridge is unparalleled (Although I might add that the wonderful long open ridge of Jay Mountain will give you a similar experience on a somewhat smaller scale, for much less effort!)

I could well imagine making Rocky Peak Ridge an annual spring pilgrimage.

Last edited by Kevin7; 06-01-2018 at 10:21 PM..
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Old 06-02-2018, 07:27 AM   #2
debmonster
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A great report! I had the pleasure of finishing my 46er peaks doing the traverse of Giant and RPR from Route 73 to 9 and your excellent detail really brought back many wonderful moments from that day. I agree that it's a place to be visited again and again. Any photos?
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Old 06-04-2018, 05:51 PM   #3
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Here are photos from my campsite.
The first two show the view west from my "day camp" on Blueberry Cobbles - Mason Mt. in the foreground, Bald Peak on its right shoulder, Rocky Peak Ridge over to the left:
Attached Images
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File Type: jpg P5174961.JPG (118.2 KB, 111 views)

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Old 06-04-2018, 05:57 PM   #4
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These are from Bald Peak.
8 AM mist looking north east in the first.
The prominent peak you see in the last three is Rocky Peak.
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File Type: jpg P5174981.JPG (64.8 KB, 110 views)
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File Type: jpg P5175006.JPG (70.9 KB, 110 views)

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Old 06-04-2018, 06:03 PM   #5
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The first three are from Rocky Peak.
The last is further west on the ridge, showing the final ascent to the summit of Rocky Peak Ridge:
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File Type: jpg P5175023.JPG (100.5 KB, 110 views)
File Type: jpg P5175028.JPG (33.5 KB, 109 views)
File Type: jpg P5175043.JPG (130.1 KB, 111 views)

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Old 06-04-2018, 06:05 PM   #6
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The lovely Marie Louise Pond, nestled into the mountain (second photo looking east):
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File Type: jpg P5175108.JPG (135.6 KB, 110 views)

Last edited by Kevin7; 06-04-2018 at 06:48 PM..
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Old 06-04-2018, 06:08 PM   #7
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On the summit of Rocky Peak Ridge, looking east, south and southwest.
Middle picture shows the mist rolling in at noon:
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File Type: jpg P5175083.JPG (75.5 KB, 113 views)
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Old 06-04-2018, 06:10 PM   #8
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Dawn on the first ledge just below Blueberry Cobbles:
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Old 06-04-2018, 06:43 PM   #9
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If those aren't lovely and exciting photos I don't know what is.
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Old 06-04-2018, 06:59 PM   #10
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Great photos and trip report!
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Old 06-04-2018, 09:03 PM   #11
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Great photos & trip report! Thanks for sharing!
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Old 06-04-2018, 10:07 PM   #12
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Nice Report

Is that the Solitaire Backpacking tent? How do you like it?
I'm needing a tent. Thought it might be a bit too small. Wondering about that?

Don
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Old 06-04-2018, 10:57 PM   #13
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very nice TR! RPR is on the list for this year. (again)
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Old 06-04-2018, 11:05 PM   #14
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Yes Don, that is the Eureka Solitaire. I love it. I think it is a very good tent for its moderate price. I find it surprisingly roomy (for that type of tent). I'm 5'11", 160 pounds.
It is easy to set up. It weighs about 3 pounds.
I particularly like the zipper that runs the full length of the top of the tent. The inner tent is almost all mesh. When using the fly, you do have to enter by the "front door". But the top zipper is great for getting everything set up in the tent. And I do enter from the top with the fly rolled back for great open air "afternoon naps" -could be used for warm starry nights as well.
I haven't used in a severe rainstorm yet, but I believe it would perform well.
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Old 06-08-2018, 08:32 AM   #15
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Kevin,

Thank you for the report. We are hoping to get up to the peaks in a week but the DEC advisory is still on so we thought we'd "settle" for a lessor trip. Your photos clearly show there is no settling at all. Looking forward to getting up there.

I also like the idea of splitting the trip and your splitting your campsite. We like to not eat where we sleep and this just adds to it.

Thanks again.
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Old 06-08-2018, 02:16 PM   #16
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Thanks for the great photos!
That Marie Louise bridge is way higher & more substantial than what was there the last time I hiked that route -- and since it doesn't look terribly new, makes me realize again that it's been much too long for me.
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Old 06-08-2018, 06:33 PM   #17
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@rickhart

The walkway across the outlet of Marie-Louise is a fairly recent addition, no more than 2 years old.
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Old 06-08-2018, 08:29 PM   #18
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Mr 7,
Great photos!! I especially like the ones with the undercast...

I also had the same Eureka tent. My son affectionately called it "the coffin", I preferred sarcophagus.
I had been caught in some very heavy rains in it, always stayed dry.
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Old 06-10-2018, 10:57 PM   #19
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Quote:
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@rickhart

The walkway across the outlet of Marie-Louise is a fairly recent addition, no more than 2 years old.
That makes me feel better. I didn't try to look it up, but I know it's been too long -- but hopefully not as unforgiveably long as I thought looking at the pic.
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